Posts tagged: dread

Induced Angst

Dr. Holzmacher's Business LogoAngst is one byproduct of the U.S. government’s long-term fiscal policy.  Angst may be defined as a deep seated insecurity experienced by those free to choose.  A dread of one’s personal responsibilities.  Fiscal dread experienced by the American public is not a deep seated insecurity to manage the burden of personal responsibility.  It is a public realization that few political figures are motivated to realistically appraise the situation, let alone offer viable alternatives.  The potential for economic disaster may be kicked down the road a few years, subsequent to expensive and ultimately useless measures traditionally employed.  Domestic dread will increase proportionally to the decline of important local services.  Foreign dread will decrease the willingness to buy American debt, which will accelerate the pace of ultimate financial ruin.  Personal dread may be lessened by exerting personal control, that is embodied by the choice of a candidate in democratic societies.  It is increasingly a choice between dysfunctional alternatives.

The exertion of greater personal control is one method to reduce angst, and hence the accompanying anxiety.  The less control one perceives in their environment, the greater the anxiety and anticipation of possible disaster.  The choice of political parties gives people a sense of control, as do the choice of pundits.  The amplitude of the anger may proportionally increase the perception of personal control.  The partisan bickering will become louder as the deadline for each successive federal budget draws near.  Appointed representatives of the American people will blame each other for the mismanagement, and the citizens will choose their sides.  The system on which they depend will remain in place, though each side declares a victory for progress.  Public angst will increase proportionally with the heightened awareness of illusionary choice.

What can be done to lower the public angst?  Greater public control over the government would likely decrease the angst.  Violence is the ultimate form of control, but it is rarely the best alternative.  Think of the peasant revolt during the French Revolution.  Aristocratic blood flowed in the streets and alleys of Paris, yet the monarchy regained control shortly thereafter.  Many decades passed before democracy was formalized in France.  Class violence in America would likely result in greater repression of the lower echelon, and little else.  Class divisions based upon wealth would be strengthened, not diminished.  Gated communities may become modern castles, keeping the hordes of the impoverished at bay.  Angst-ridden dread may explode into vengeful anger.  Anger devoid of a clear goal would be less than helpful, and possibly disastrous.

Increasing public control of the government is a simple idea that is nearly impossible to implement.  It would engender massive political resistance, as it takes from those who currently hold the reigns of power.  It would weaken control of the government by the wealthiest, and hence the most powerful individuals.  It would medicate the illness that plagues most forms of government; for example, secrets, influence peddling and blatant misrepresentations to the public.  This illness is a common infestation of autocratic governance.  Any or all these symptoms may threaten the health of democratic governance.

If the medicine entails greater public control of the government, how should the pill be formulated?  Videotaped meetings, recorded phone calls, and standardized petitions for influence are healthy ingredients.  Civilian boards that oversee the labeling of secrets would lessen side-effects.  Prohibition of candidates becoming lobbyists is necessary to stop the spread of the disease.  The efficacy of the medication would be enhanced by forcing all candidates to use equal funds in the pursuit of political office.  Currently, the wealthiest or best fund raisers obtain political office, which is not the best selection criteria for someone to represent the will of the people.  It suggests that the candidate is greedy and possibly crafty, rather than a humane and capable administrator sought by the voters.  The medication tastes sweetest to those suffering with political angst, and most bitter to those who support the disease.

Diseased politicians have forgotten that they are servants of the people.  Politicians must relinquish any pretensions to privacy when they run for public office.  Government secrets typically protect those employed in the government; not the people they were hired to serve, or elected to represent.  Competition between politicians must be fought on a level field of play.  Transparency may drive psychopathy into the shadows, but it is not likely to make it disappear altogether.  The public must be willing to suffer the anxiety engendered by change, or increasingly stagnate from the compulsion to remain on the present course.


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Angst is not a word often used in conversation, yet it lists very highly on web searches.  I could not find it indexed in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual IV.  This book lists accepted mental disorders and the codes many insurance companies use for claims.  Two medical dictionaries and a prior DSM (III) did not list angst as well.  It’s an uncommon term for a common condition.

The nearest synonym is anxiety, though it does not capture the full meaning of the word.  There are typically feelings of dread and frustration in a fluctuating balance.  Perhaps many people using “angst” as a search word are trying to capture a state of being they experience.  Perhaps there is a perception of something lacking in their existence, and most English words do not capture the essence of their thoughts adequately.

The existential philosophers address the word “angst,” which is actually a German word for “anxiety” or “dread.”  The philosophical use of the term was coined by Kierkegaard to denote a state of anguish we feel as the responsibility or burden of freedom.  There is dread arising from a lack of purpose, meaning or concern in the universe.  We try to impose our values and meanings on an inherently absurd universe.  Their is a constant dialectical tension between the man searching for meaning, and the universe that is conceived as mute and uncaring.

While a sense of meaning is important, a sense of purpose can truly keep people alive.  In my clinical practice with nursing home patients, a sense of purpose is the single most important factor in turning around many depressive episodes.  Most people do not theorize about the meaning of their lives until something dramatic happens.  A sense of purpose is nearly prerequisite in the average adult, and it has the advantage of being less abstract than the meaning of one’s existence.

The most clinically meaningful use of the term “angst” is anxiety and frustration with an absent or misguided purpose to one’s life.  What makes it clinically relevant is that it captures a broad swath of humanity, and avoids the perception of the universe as absurd.  A sense of meaningless absurdity to one’s existence is often a depressive perception, such that taking it as factual would not be helpful in mitigating a patient’s Major Depression or Adjustment Disorder.  The typical goal of psychotherapy is to adjust someone to their environment, such that a perception of one’s environment as absurd would render the goal absurd as well.

Angst is a handy word to describe something complicated.  A perception that one is on the wrong track in life, that the boat was missed is the precondition of my definition.  The ongoing sense of anxious dread serving out the sentence of one’s life is angst.  The discovering of an ego-syntonic purpose to one’s life is psychotherapy.  Please share your thoughts about this post in the “comments” section below.

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